Although he remained a world-class player, a collapse at the Masters in 2016 — he lost a five-shot, final-round lead on the back nine at Augusta with a quadruple bogey on the par-3 12th hole — and another final-day meltdown at Augusta in 2017 kicked off a stretch that saw Spieth sputter for several years. There were doubts whether he would regain his dominance, but a resurgence this season peaked last weekend when he captured the Texas Open by two shots to end a winless drought of more than 3½ years.
“It’s been a long road,” Spieth told reporters after the victory Sunday, which sent him into Masters week with momentum. “I never really doubted myself that I’d get back to where I wanted to go, but when you lose confidence, a lot of times it’s hard to see the positives going forward, and I just kept my head down.”
Spieth’s slide from the apex of the sport included declines in iron play, scrambling and putting, but nothing was more damaging than a confounding inability to drive the ball successfully.
When he was winning those two majors in 2015 en route to player of the year honors, Spieth finished 15th in the PGA Tour’s strokes gained off the tee rankings, meaning he was 0.5 strokes per round better than the field average on the same course. By 2018, he fell to 50th by this measure. In 2019, he dropped to 176th. (He still ranks just 151st in strokes gained off the tee heading into the Masters.)
But it wasn’t just his driving that faltered. Starting in 2013, Spieth ranked 31st, 14th, fourth and ninth in the Tour’s year-end scrambling statistics. That meant in 2015, for example, he made par or better 65 percent of the time he missed the green in regulation. That figure dropped to less than 58 percent in 2020 (tied for 120th). During the early part of his career, he excelled at approach shots from at least 100 yards; in 2013 he ranked third on the Tour by averaging just over 41 feet from the hole on such approaches, and by 2015 he had lowered his average to under 41 feet. But last year, he was leaving himself an average of nearly 47 feet from those approaches, dropping him to 111th on the Tour.
Then there was his putting. From 2014 to 2016, he was among the best on the Tour with his putter, ranking in the top 20 each season. But even that became erratic as his game wobbled. Last year he finished outside the top 100.
“To compare how he is putting now to when he was going through that amazing stretch in 2015, 2016 and 2017 is unfair. He was making putts outside of 20 feet at a clip that was unprecedented,” Justin Leonard, a studio analyst on the Golf Channel and major winner, said in an interview. “The biggest issue for Spieth has been the driver. He wasn’t sure which way he was going to miss it. Having a two-way miss is a hard thing for a golfer because you can’t eliminate one side of the golf course. And when you’re missing greens, you’re putting a lot of pressure on your putter.”
Last week’s victory at TPC San Antonio, Spieth’s first since 2017, could give the 27-year-old a solid foundation heading into the heart of this season. The 5,000 daily fans in attendance got behind the former Texas Longhorn, and the three-time major winner did his part. Spieth hit seven birdies in a final-round 6-under-par 66 to finish 18 under. He outperformed the field by almost 13 strokes from tee to green, the third-best showing in that category of his career. (The 2015 PGA Championship and the 2018 Houston Open were the only ones better; he had top-three finishes at both events.) And his birdie or better conversion rate of nearly 55 percent last week tied for the second-highest rate among PGA Tour winners since 1983.
All helped fuel his first victory after 83 tournaments covering 1,351 days, and it came at an event that played to Spieth’s strengths.
“It’s a shot-maker’s golf course,” explained Larson Segerdahl, executive director of the Texas Open. “Jordan might not hit it straight on every tee shot, but his ability to hit it out wherever it lies and get creative and get himself back on track quickly is an asset. His short game was unbelievable … and his ability to get up and down from some tough spots proved to be the difference.”
Those traits also could serve him well at Augusta, a course where he has often putted well. (“The ball seems to find the hole here, when I get on the putting surface,” he said this week.) The course emphasizes distance off the tee and a good short game, downplaying driving accuracy. Misses to the left must be avoided, and those are the ones that appear most troublesome to Spieth, but they aren’t a dealbreaker.
“If the fairways are fairly generous and firm, they can become a little bit smaller,” Leonard said. “He still needs to have a good week driving the ball, but if he misses the fairway he’s not playing out of four- or five-inch rough. You can miss the fairways here and still contend. He certainly has the short game to do it, and he has the accuracy in his irons to do it, too. He’s playing with confidence now, and I think he’s been building toward this.”